(Updated at 1:55 p.m.) Arlington County surveyed more than 250 residents, workers and visitors to Courthouse Square to assess public opinion of the area’s future.
The survey was conducted as part of the county’s “Envision Courthouse Square” initiative, which is trying to get the public involved in the process of planning the future development of the 9-acre area surrounding the county’s large surface parking lot.
That lot in particular was the subject of many survey respondent’s suggestions, who desire to see it become an underground parking lot with a different use for the surface area up top.
“I live in the neighborhood, so for me the parking is a waste,” one respondent said. “However I recognize the need for parking near the courthouse and government buildings to serve other residents of Arlington. I would think that an underground parking structure with a public space on top would be the best way to balance these needs.”
“Please underground the parking,” another said. “The surface parking detracts from the neighborhood’s streetscape. We should create a walkable environment that encourages visitors to utilize Arlington’s multimodal options.”
More than 13 percent of respondents listed “market events” as their preferred future use of open space in Courthouse Square, followed by 12.2 percent in favor of outdoor movies and evening events. Social gathering and social seating received 11.7 and 9.8 percent of the vote, respectively.
When asked if public events, celebrations and demonstrations should be encouraged in Courthouse Square, 73.1 percent of those asked answered, “yes,” but some said they worried the events would benefit only those from other areas.
“Courthouse Square should be a place for those who live there or nearby to enjoy the open space,” one response said, “not an area for out of towners or others to use to hold political events.”
Of the “yes” answers, many cited Courthouse’s civic identity as a reason to encourage First Amendment expression in the open spaces.
“It should be celebrated as THE civic space in Arlington,” one answer said. Another respondent said only, “Because America, that’s why.”
A majority, 53 percent of respondents said Courthouse Square should be a “beacon” for all of Arlington, while 29 percent said it should be mostly designed for the surrounding neighborhood. Only 17 percent said it should be designed for use by the entire D.C. metro area or region.
“Courthouse does not currently have much of neighborhood feel,” said one of the “neighborhood” respondents. “It is nice to feel some smaller community in a large city. New York City neighborhoods have this and it makes them unique. It also draws people from other places to experience their unique aspects.”
“We all have plenty of regional attractions,” said a respondent who thought Courthouse should be designed for all of Arlington. “[We] need to develop sense of place — Arlington specific, beyond just being across river from D.C.”
Said another: “Arlington needs a town center. An identity. A place people can say ‘I’ll meet you on the town square.’ Arlington lacks that now — and I think that harms our identity and cohesiveness.”
Vihstadt Backs Off Independent Auditor Push — Newly-elected County Board member John Vihstadt is backing off a campaign promise to push for an independent auditor for Arlington County. Vihstadt “learned of the internal auditing that the county does and its plans to make that role more robust.” He plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the county’s auditing project around mid-year. [Washington Post]
Howze Won Pike Precincts — Democratic County Board candidate Alan Howze, who lost to John Vihstadt in the April 8 special election, narrowly won the precincts around Columbia Pike. Opponents of the planned Columbia Pike streetcar say the slim victory — Howze supports the streetcar while Vihstadt does not — is proof that even Columbia Pike residents who stand to benefit from the streetcar are lukewarm on the project. [InsideNoVa]
A Weekend in Courthouse in 2.5 Minutes — Timelapse photography of Arlington’s Courthouse Square area shows 2.5 days in just 2.5 minutes. The video includes a view of the Courthouse farmers market from setup to break down. [YouTube]
Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber
Arlington County has announced that it is expanding ConnectArlington, its high-speed fiber optic program that connects county government and school buildings, and making it available to Arlington businesses.
The county’s unused fiber optic capacity, or “dark fiber,” will provide not only significantly faster data speeds for businesses — the county says the speed is “unprecedented” — but also a more secure connection that can be used between contractors and federal agencies like the Pentagon.
Officials expect the program to provide an economic boost to the county.
“Arlington will be the only place for businesses to receive this level of service and security and will be the only place offering such dedicated lines to the nation’s top defense and research organizations,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in a press release. “The opportunities ConnectArlington gives Arlington businesses are endless; we anticipate this game-changing infrastructure will attract jobs and innovative investments to our community.”
When ConnectArlington was installed for county businesses and services in 2012, the county said it will improve traffic management, public transportation and 911 response time.
Companies will be able to lease the dark fiber over the next year as Arlington works with a third-party consultant to make “the service easily available,” according to the press release. The full rollout is expected to be complete by early 2015.
Being able to use the county’s existing fiber capacity will provide businesses with connectivity that would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive and/or logistically complicated to get on their own.
The full press release, after the jump. (more…)
The first community planning workshop for “Envision Courthouse Square” will be held at Key Elementary School (2300 Key Blvd) in the cafeteria on Wednesday, March 26.
The county has dubbed a 9-acre area around the county’s large surface parking lot “Courthouse Square.” A mix of county- and privately-owned land and buildings, Courthouse Square could potentially be transformed into a mix of new developments, roads and open space.
“We are looking to the community to help us plan an extraordinary civic center that will not only house County government, but will provide a great public space to serve Arlingtonians for generations,” Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said in a press release.
The effort, the county says, will be the most comprehensive look at the future of Courthouse since the 1993 Courthouse Sector Plan Addendum. The Courthouse Square Planning and Urban Design Study Working Group, formed by County Board action in October 2013, will take the public’s suggestion and formulate it into a plan moving forward.
The five areas the working group, and the community, will evaluate are open space, building location and design, circulation (moving cars, pedestrians and bicycles through the area), community resources and sustainability.
The working group, made up of residents, business owners and community leaders and chaired by Planning Commissioner Nancy Iacomini, is expected to have recommendations for the County Board by the end of 2014.
Arlington County will review the big jump in commercial real estate assessments in Clarendon first reported by ARLnow.com last week.
The county said Friday evening that it will take a look at “all commercial real property assessments with a 50% or greater increase from calendar year 2013.”
There are nearly 90 such properties, including Rien Tong restaurant (3131 Wilson Blvd), which saw its assessment increase 197 percent, and Spider Kelly’s (3171 Wilson Blvd), which saw its property valuation increase 83 percent.
The assessments are updated annually and used to calculate county property taxes.
“A small number of commercial property owners did see substantially increased assessments, and this review is meant to correct any mistakes that may have been made,” said county finance director Michelle Cowan, in a press release, below.
Arlington County has begun a review of all commercial real property assessments with a 50% or greater increase from calendar year 2013, including several parcels in the Clarendon area that saw significant increases.
The review will affect fewer than 90 properties, of approximately 3,300 total commercial parcels. Both the original assessments, and the underlying data for each of the affected properties, will be re-examined to determine whether the assessment should be sustained or changed.
“A small number of commercial property owners did see substantially increased assessments, and this review is meant to correct any mistakes that may have been made,” said Dept. of Management and Finance Director Michelle Cowan. “We want to ensure fair and equitable assessments for all property owners.”
Arlington’s Real Estate Assessment office is mailing letters to property owners of all properties whose assessments increased 50% or more. Upon conclusion of the administrative review by the County, property owners will still have the ability to appeal their assessment through the Board of Equalization. It is anticipated that the County’s administrative review will take 30-45 days.
Overall, commercial assessments, which include office buildings, apartments, hotels and retail, grew 5.4 percent over CY 2013, primarily fueled by new construction and strength in apartment properties due to rising rents. The specific parcels that were questioned in the Clarendon area fall into the general commercial category class, which includes retail and other types of properties, excluding office buildings and apartments. The general commercial assessment category increased by 12.4 percent over CY 2013.
Assessments for most commercial properties are based on an income approach and evaluate how much income a property would produce if it were rented as an apartment, store, factory, etc. This approach considers operating expenses, taxes, insurance, maintenance costs, and the profits most people would expect from the rental. The net income after operational costs, plus a capitalization rate, determines the assessment value. It is not based on the profitability of a particular business; rather the assessment value is based on the rents and expenses of the property and building in which the business is located.
It’s at least the fifth time Arlington Public Schools have closed due to snow this school year.
“Essential personnel are to report to work as scheduled,” said APS spokeswoman Jennifer Harris. “Extracurricular activities, interscholastic contests, team practices, field trips, adult and community education classes, and programs in schools and on school grounds are canceled.”
All ART bus service has been suspended, in advance of a winter storm expected to drop 6-10 inches of snow Monday. Arlington’s western neighbor, the City of Falls Church, has declared a snow emergency now.
The Virginia Department of Transportation, meanwhile, is encouraging residents to leave their cars at home on Monday.
“By midnight tonight, 4,000 trucks will be staged along interstates, major roads and neighborhood streets in Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties,” VDOT said in a press release Sunday night. “Drivers should stay off the roads tomorrow… snow and frigid temperatures to northern Virginia.”
Staying off the roads should be easier for non-emergency federal workers — the Office of Personnel Management announced tonight that federal offices would be closed Monday.
Residents have been reporting a shortage of salt and other snow clearing supplies in local grocery and hardware stores.
“Gonna have a slick sidewalk [tomorrow],” said Twitter user @TheRhino26.
There’s little relief in sight for drivers and bus riders traveling down some rough portions of Columbia Pike.
Arlington County is planning to finish repaving the section of the Pike from S. Wakefield Street to Four Mile Run Drive by April, but so far the county has no plans to repave the increasingly pockmarked eastern portion of the Pike, including the “Pike Town Center” business district, within the next six months. Potholes are expected to be filled by this spring, but a full repaving could be several years away.
“Over the next several years, Arlington County will continue with utility undergrounding and street improvement projects, which will include roadway paving in three areas on Columbia Pike: Four Mile Run Bridge to County Line, South Oakland Street to South Wakefield Street, and South Garfield Street to South Rolfe Street,” Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services spokeswoman Robyn Mincher tells ARLnow.com. As of last year, the streetscape improvement project was expected to run through 2018.
Apart from the Columbia Pike streetcar, which is a separate project, planned street improvements for the Pike include a repaved roadway, better pedestrian facilities, more street trees and planted medians. But for some Pike residents and business owners, those improvements are too slow in coming.
“I do believe that the delays they are having with the transportation issues will eventually halt all momentum the Pike has had with growth,” said Sybil Robinson, who owns Twisted Vines Wine Bar and Bottleshop (2803 Columbia Pike). ”Businesses that opened here with the promise of increased foot traffic and customer base may have to close since they’ve been just getting by for years now. We’re all trying to share the same small customer base that lives in the area. Once places start to close, you can forget new businesses coming here.”
Takis Karantonis, executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, says he appreciates the improvements but is worried about the “glacial pace” of some projects.
“While the driver’s experience on the Pike… is very challenging, it is the pedestrian realm what concerns us the most,” he said. ”Utility undergrounding and streetscape improvements have been taking more time than anybody would have had anticipated. This is a challenge for everybody, but especially for businesses along our corridor… reliable timelines are of essence.”
Robinson said she’s heard complaints specifically about the rough roadway, but doesn’t actually think that particular problemn has has much of a direct impact on her business.
“We’ve definitely had customers complain about the road conditions, but as soon as they fix one problem spot, another pops up,” said Sybil Robinson, who owns Twisted Vines Wine Bar and Bottleshop (2803 Columbia Pike). “In terms of business impact, I don’t think it has hurt us too much. Most of our customers live on or near the Pike and the road conditions impact them on a daily basis going to and from work — so they know what to expect.”
Arlington County took responsibility for the maintenance of Columbia Pike from VDOT in 2010. John Antonelli, a Pike resident and an outspoken streetcar critic, says the county is shirking a neighborly duty by leaving the Pike in a state of disrepair.
“Arlington County has to understand that part of being a gateway community is to be a gateway,” he said. “Columbia Pike is a commuter road to the Pentagon and it behooves us as a good neighbor to ensure that our businesses and their employees and customers can get to and from as quickly as possible.”
“It’s a mess,” Antonelli added, about the Pike. “But it is more driveable now then it will be if they put the trolley in.”
One bit of good news for drivers is that VDOT is planning to repave Columbia Pike from S. Quinn Street to S. Orme Street next, as part of its Columbia Pike/Washington Blvd interchange project, according to VDOT spokeswoman Jennifer McCord.
Property values in Arlington rose significantly over the past year despite high office vacancy rates.
Arlington County said today that its overall 2014 real estate assessments rose 5.8 percent. The growth was “fueled primarily by strength in the residential market, as well as new construction of commercial properties,” the county said.
The assessments for residential properties — single-family homes, condos and townhouses — rose 5.3 percent, to an average of $552,700.
Commercial real estate assessments were the biggest surprise, rising 5.4 percent over Calendar Year 2013. County staff projected in November that commercial assessments would be flat.
In addition to new construction, the county said that apartment and retail properties helped lead the growth in the commercial sector. Apartment assessments rose 4.8 percent while general commercial properties (retail) increased more than 10 percent. Office property values “rose slightly.”
Last year, residential property assessments increased 1 percent while commercial property assessments declined by 0.5 percent.
With real estate assessments up 5.8 percent this year, over the 2.6 percent projection, the county should get some welcome wiggle room for its upcoming Fiscal Year 2015 budget. This fall county staff projected a $20-25 million budget gap. The county says it still expects to face a budget gap, but didn’t list any specific projections.
“We are grateful that Arlington continues to show resilience and stability, despite ongoing tensions in the larger economy,” said Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan, in a press release. “I am pleased the budget gap is narrowed, but we still face expenditure pressures for both County and Schools.”
The County Board instructed Donnellan to come up with a budget that does not raise tax rates. The higher assessments, however, will serve as a defacto tax hike if rates remain the same — $1.006 per $100 of assessed value.
The county press release says rising school enrollment in particular is putting pressure on county finances.
Arlington also faces a number of expenditure pressures, especially to support aging County infrastructure and Arlington’s population growth. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, the pressures include health care, retirement costs, new facilities and contractual cost increases, including Metro. Meanwhile, the County continues to invest in current and new infrastructure to maintain the high quality of services that are important to the long-term sustainability of the County.
Arlington’s largest expense is Arlington Public Schools, which represents approximately 45.6% of local tax revenue, and an investment of more than $18,000 per student. Continued year-over-year growth in school enrollment has put pressure on School facilities and educational costs.
As revenue is again expected to be less than projected expenditures, both the County and Schools will need to determine their priorities within these fiscal constraints. The County Manager and School Superintendent will present their proposed budgets to the County Board and School Board in late February. The County Board will set the real estate tax rate in April.
The real estate assessments were mailed today to property owners and are expected to be available online at 11:00 p.m.
(Updated at 11:25 a.m.) Arlington County government offices, facilities, public schools, pools, community centers and courts are closing at noon today due to the winter storm currently bearing down on the area.
All afternoon and evening activities at Arlington public schools have been canceled.
The county says it’s in a “Phase 2 Alert” for snow removal. Crews are ready to treat and plow primary and secondary roads that may become snow-covered.
Trash collection has been suspended for the remainder of the day.
“Trash and recycling services have been suspended for Tuesday, Jan. 21 due to winter weather,” said Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services. “Please remove your carts from the curb for the safety and efficiency of our snow plows and crews.”
The City of Falls Church has declared a snow emergency and is ordering residents to remove cars on snow emergency routes or face towing and fines. Arlington so far has not declared a snow emergency.
Federal offices in the D.C. area are closed today due to the expected snow storm.
Non-emergency federal employees will have the day off, unless their office requires them to telework.
“Telework-Ready Employees who are scheduled to perform telework on the effective day of the announcement or who are required to perform telework on a day when Federal offices are closed must telework the entire workday or request leave, or a combination of both, in accordance with their agency’s policies and procedures, subject to any applicable collective bargaining requirements,” according to the Office of Personnel Management.
Arlington County government offices and courts, meanwhile, are open today.
All Arlington public schools are closed, but community centers and pools remain open. All evening activities are canceled. Essential APS employees must report to work but teachers are being asked to work from home and other employees are being allowed to telework.
ART bus service, like Metro service, will be running on a normal schedule this morning but may reduce service levels as weather conditions dictate.
Arlington’s Emergency Winter Shelter will remain open throughout the day today due to falling temperatures and the expected snowfall.
“We called in a team today to hook up our trucks with chains, spreaders and plows,” said Shannon Whalen McDaniel, spokeswoman for Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services. “We will also brine the roads throughout the night in preparation.”
VDOT, meanwhile, said “crews are pre-treating roads aggressively throughout Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William and Arlington counties today.”
“Crews will be out in force overnight and through the duration of the storm, treating icy roads and plowing snow,” VDOT said in a press release. “While VDOT is in full preparation mode, motorists are urged to make sure their vehicles are in proper driving condition for winter weather and have emergency kits. During the storm, motorists should avoid driving on the roads.”
WMATA says it will start the Tuesday on a normal weekday Metrorail and bus schedule, but may reduce rail service and suspend bus service later in the day as conditions deteriorate. MetroAccess service has been suspended for all of Tuesday.
“For your safety, travel only if necessary,” Metro said in an advisory. “If you must travel, plan to arrive at your destination before the worst of the storm, and be prepared to remain there until the storm passes. Check wmata.com before starting your trip or sign up for MetroAlerts to receive updated service information by email or text message.”
Arlington’s county-run TV channel is out with its 2013 year-in-review video.
Adopting County Board Chair Walter Tejada’s “Moving Forward Together” theme, the video features a look back at some Arlington highlights from 2013. Among them:
- USS Arlington commissioning
- Barcroft Baseball Field #6 opening
- Urban Agriculture Task Force report
- Opening of the 200th Capital Bikeshare station
- Rosslyn Metro station high-speed elevator opening
- Arlington Mill Community Center opening
- Fifty-three committed affordable housing units created
- New bocce courts created
Arlington County is in the process of negotiating with Comcast for a new long term franchise agreement, but they’ve run out of time. That’s why they’re requesting a one year extension, which will be examined at Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting.
Franchise agreements, which allow cable and video service providers to operate in a locality, typically are negotiated once every 10-15 years. Comcast took over an existing franchise agreement in 2000 and that expired in June of this year. In June, the County Board approved a six month temporary contract extension, which ends this month. Because both parties are still hashing out details of a long term agreement, they submitted the request currently before the Board for another temporary extension, to expire in December of 2014.
“The purpose of the extension is to give us time to negotiate the best deal we can with Comcast,” said the county’s Cable Administrator Rob Billingsley. “Rather than put the agreement in any kind of peril, the idea is that the Board passes, hopefully, that extension so we do have that time. All parties agree to do this, it’s not at all controversial.”
Both parties are required by law to keep the negotiations confidential. Billingsley did say, however, that the meetings have been successful and productive thus far.
“Because these agreements last as long as do, there’s some complexity to it,” Billingsley explained. “You’re not rushing it and you’re getting the best deal possible.”
The long term contracts allow Comcast to use the county’s “rights of way” such as streets and sidewalks. In exchange, Comcast provides free public education and government TV channels, in addition to grants and equipment for producing shows on those channels. The county also receives approximately five percent of Comcast’s gross revenue in Arlington, which is first routed through the state due to tax requirements and then heads back into the county’s general fund.
Part of the cable franchise renewal process involves examining Comcast’s past performance and determining future services to be included in the new agreement. There was a public meeting to discuss such desired services back in September of 2011.
County staff is recommending the County Board approve the temporary contract extension on Saturday.
Update at 4:00 p.m. — The Department of Environmental Services says all of its trucks are back out this afternoon to spread salt and make sure snow and ice are melting on residential streets. A small team will remain on standby overnight to address any possible areas that may re-freeze.
Earlier — All of the weather advisories for Arlington County have been cancelled and the snow has stopped falling, but the storm’s effects still linger around the county.
VDOT reports having more than 1,900 trucks clearing state roads throughout Northern Virginia. Arlington County sent out crews on its streets beginning at 4:00 a.m. to treat primary and secondary roads. Traffic cameras show most major roads are clear and traffic is largely moving smoothly throughout the county as of 2:00 p.m. Drivers are encouraged to exercise extra caution through tomorrow because temperatures will drop and slush on the roads could freeze.
The Arlington County government remained open but the following services have been affected:
- Trash/Recycling/Brush collection crews are performing collection services. If they are unable to get to certain streets because of the street conditions, they will go back and complete collection tomorrow.
- Vacuum leaf collection has been canceled for today. Collection will resume in zone three tomorrow.
- Bag leaf collection crews are out collecting leaves today. If crews are unable to get to certain streets because of the conditions, they will also go back and complete the collections tomorrow.
- Mulch deliveries for today have been rescheduled for tomorrow. Customers have been notified.
ART buses had been operating on a limited schedule earlier today and they returned to normal by late morning.
According to the Arlington County Police Department, Public Service Aides still will enforce parking regulations. Parking enforcement is in place every day the county government is open for business. However, Public Service Aides only will be used for parking enforcement duties today when they are not busy assisting police with necessary functions related to winter weather.
Although officers and emergency responders are out in full force to assist with emergencies, residents are asked to remain off the roads for safety reasons.
“Residents are encouraged to stay off the roads today and minimize their traveling if possible,” said ACPD spokesman Dustin Sternbeck. “If they need to go out then they are encouraged to use public transportation in an attempt to minimize accidents, road congestion and so that county staff and road crews can perform their jobs as safely as possible.”
Arlington Public Schools closed today and so far no decision has been made about Wednesday. From APS:
“APS will continue to monitor the road conditions in collaboration with Arlington County and our regional partners throughout the remainder of the day, tonight and early tomorrow morning. If APS opens on time on Wed, Dec. 11, we will go forward with the previously-announced school calendar, including the scheduled countywide elementary early release. If schools have a two-hour delayed opening tomorrow, the elementary early release will be cancelled and school will end at the normal dismissal time, in accordance with our normal procedures.”
APS announced the decision just after 5:00 this morning. Classes are canceled but school offices are to remain open, with essential employees still expected to report to work.
The federal government, meanwhile, is closed this morning, as are Arlington County courts. But Arlington County government will be open, with an unscheduled leave and telework policy for employees. ART buses will operate on a limited schedule.
Snow in Arlington began later than areas west and north, owing to temperatures just above freezing, but all parts of the county appear to have switched from rain to snow by 7:15 a.m.